World of Ponycraft

by Capn_Chryssalid

Chapter 2: Chapter Two

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- - - (2) - - -

Twilight Sparkle mewed in relief as the healing energy engulfed her, rapidly restoring strength and vitality to her worn and drained frame. Bruises and magical damage faded, lifting away from her coat like a misty haze. Warmth permeated her very core, bringing a pleasant shiver to the surface. Sadly, it wouldn't erase the shame of being so effortlessly taken out by Trixie, regardless of how 'Great and Powerful' the annoying bay blue mare claimed to be (nor would it erase the memory of that terrible Trixie-dance, a sight that would probably be with Twilight until the day she died).

"Um, Twilight?" a soft, shy voice inquired. "Are you... feeling better...?"

"Much better." She looked up to see a gold coated pegasus pony with a long pink mane: her friend Fluttershy. When had she gotten back? Clearly only recently: the soft spoken mare still had a traveling pack or two hooked up to her saddle. Light blue eyes inspected Twilight to make sure she was recovering and only then did the shy pony back away, keeping her head low and letting her mane fall over to conceal part of her face.

"Thanks," Twilight groaned, rubbing the side of her head. She was still completely mana-drained.

"I, um, saw your duel," Fluttershy said, Spike standing to her side. He must've found her and brought her over. "I'm sorry you lost so badly."

Twilight facefell - had it really been that bad? She hung her head and moaned pitifully. "What, does everyone know about it?"

"Trixie was goating in general chat, so..."

"She was what?"

"Um. Nothing." Fluttershy bit her lower lip and watched as Twilight got back on her feet, flexing her freshly restored legs. "Your mana is still very low. Would you like some Goldthorn Tea? I'm not that great at making it, but... but it'll help..."

'Goldthorn Tea?' Twilight wondered, but nodded her head agreeably. "That sounds great, but, Fluttershy, were you the one who healed me?"

The normally quiet and reserved pony nodded her head.

Stepping out of the street and over to a nearby store overhang, Fluttershy quickly and easily retrieved some kindling from her bag and started a tiny campfire. It was just enough to heat up what looked to be some spring water and herbs. Curiously, no one seemed to bat an eye at some random pony starting a fire next to a rather flammable building. Within seconds, Fluttershy was handing her a mug of hot tea. Still a bit too weakened to exercise fine control with her unicorn telekinesis, Twilight carefully took it with her forehoof.

Taking an experimental sip from the inconspicuous brew, she was surprised by the sudden increase of energy she felt inside her. The tea was surprisingly good, though the taste was somewhat unfamiliar - definitely not an Equestria brand - but most amazing was the fact that Twilight felt her magical energy restore itself after only a few seconds of drinking. Sighing softly, she also noticed that Fluttershy had a new companion with her: a strange looking groundhog or something. The little brown critter stared at her with wide eyes.

"Thanks again for all the help," Twilight said, glancing back at the street where she'd been so handily taken down. No one seemed to be paying any attention anymore. Everyone was back to working at the forge or anvil at the armory nearby. The two mares sat in comfortable silence, when two strangers also started a duel, throwing down another one of those challenge flags.

Unlike the 'battle' with Trixie, this one actually took a while and went back and forth, as the two ponies jumped and clashed and tossed powerful magics around. It ended when one of them got stunned by some sort of ranged spell. The other one then charged in, dealing enough blows to force her opponent to concede.

"All this fighting," Fluttershy muttered softly and put down her own cup of tea. This time Twilight got a look at what her friend had used before. The yellow pony's hooves glowed and she reared up, moving them in a slow circle. It seemed a strange sight to Twilight, used to seeing magic projected from a unicorn's horn. Academically she knew pegasi and earth ponies could use foreign magic, but this was different than what she'd seen before.

Soft green and purple light enveloped the defeated duelist.

"TY!" the now rejuvenated pony said in more of that foreign shorthand that Spike was so enamored of.

"Um. ‘np’," Fluttershy softly replied, sitting back down to finish her Goldthorn Tea.

For a few seconds, Twilight just watched her. "That was... druidic magic, wasn't it?" she asked.

Fluttershy quietly nodded, clearly a bit embarrassed.

"You've been gone for more than a week," the librarian pony continued. "I thought you were going to help evacuate animals from the forest fires?"

"I was. We, um, that is... the druids and dryads helping us said I was doing such a good job... catching the animals. They were scared, and a lot of them were hurt, so..." The pegasus pony seemed a bit reluctant to praise her own efforts, and certainly not loud enough that anyone would overhear and think her to be bragging. "Well, I didn't want to leave any injured critters behind. So I sort of asked if they could..."

She ducked low, almost hiding her head between her shoulders and her pink mane.

"I asked if they could teach me how to heal the animals, and maybe how to sneak around and catch them, and they said yes, so..." Fluttershy trailed off a bit. "...so some stuff happened."

"Is that where you picked up this little guy?" Spike asked, trying to pick up the strange ground squirrel. It nimbly darted away to hide under his owner's tail.

"Oh, yes. This is Danny," Fluttershy said, moving her tail enough for Spike to pick up the critter. "He's a prairie dog from... thunder bluff..."

"You went to Thunder Bluff?!" Twilight asked, amazed. "But that's Horde territory!"

"oh, n-no, I'd never go there," her timid friend admitted with a shake of her head. "I got him in Ratchet. In the Barrens. It's a, um, a long story."

One she clearly didn't want to dwell on, since she actually took the initiative and changed the topic. "So, Twilight... why were you fighting with Trixie? You don't even have a talent spec..."

"It isn't like I was looking for a fight," Twilight argued, putting down her now empty cup of tea. "She just came out of nowhere while I was in the guild hall over there. And then she just kept bothering me until I agreed to it."

"That wasn't very nice of her."

"No, I guess it wasn't," Twilight drolly agreed.

"So, um, you were going to join a guild...?"

"No, I was just investigating something. I've been reading up on the history of some of the new world we've been introduced to, and doing some archaeology," the purple unicorn sighed as she realized, "I've been kind of out of touch, I guess. This archaeology stuff is surprisingly addictive and there are some dig sites right outside town."

"It sounds like you've been very busy. Um, I was kind of wondering if..." Fluttershy trailed off, her eyes moving to find something to Twilight's right. There was a white stallion riding by on a turtle of all things while whistling to himself, and trailing behind the slow moving turtle mount was a small, black wolf-like puppy with two large canines set in his lower jaw. Twilight recognized the species as a worg. It was a worg puppy. Cute, too.

Fluttershy's eyes grew wide as saucers.

"A worg pup!" She squeaked, excited by the sight. "And a speckled northern sea turtle!"

In a flash, the shy pegasus zipped over to snatch up the puppy in a cuddling embrace. Predictably, the stallion on the sea turtle mount took the opportunity to ask for Fluttershy's number and ask her out on a date. Thus began The Cycle: Stallion asks Fluttershy out; Fluttershy becomes even shyer and more embarrassed by the attention; Stallion becomes even more interested; Fluttershy becomes even more embarrassed; repeat ad nauseum. Literally. It was kind of nauseating. This guy wasn't exactly subtle and poor Fluttershy seemed completely and innocently oblivious to his wanting to get in her saddle.

It took a while, but finally the pegasus escaped and headed back, blushing profusely.

"S-sorry...” she apologized, bowing her head, "I heard you can't get worg pups like that any more... I really wish I had one..."

Feeling a bit dejected, Fluttershy picked up her prairie dog from Spike and hugged it as she sat back down. Nuzzling it a bit, she turned her powder blue eyes on her unicorn friend. "Umm. Twilight. I was kind of wondering if, you... that is... if you wanted to come with me to the Darkmoon Faire? Sometime? I'd really like to get a Wood Frog, or maybe a Tree Frog..."

By this point her mutter had become almost a whisper. "And, um, maybe help me with some quests?"

"I'd be happy to help any way I can," Twilight assured her. "But as you saw back there, I'm kind of... out of shape."

"Oh, you're not out of shape, you just need to visit your trainer, you know?" Fluttershy then suggested, even more quietly, "And, um, maybe do something besides archaeology?"

"I've been telling her as much for days now!" Spike chimed in. "You'd think she'd have quit after the third lame worm fossil in a row!"

"I'm so close to getting something good!" Twilight objected. "I can feel it!"

"Face it; archaeology has ruined your life, Twilight."

"Never! Archaeology pays over time. You're just being impatient for free epics."

"Um," Fluttershy hesitantly interrupted the argument. "You should probably retrain anyway, Twilight. You haven't even filled out your talent tree."

"It wasn't like there was a big rush to... until today," the unicorn relented. "But since it seems I'm just a walking punching bag without it, I guess I may as well..."

- - -

Fizzle Boombox rather liked Equestria. The climate was nice, the colors were bright, and there was just so much new stuff to tinker with! Her twin flares of pink hair bobbed up and down as she worked, fiddling with her new arcanoplastic ponyfication transmogrifier. It was a simply ingenious bit of gnomish engineering! Oh so carefully, she slowly integrated the arcanite crystal matrix to the transformation buffer...

Only to lift a hammer and jam it in place with a resounding CLANG CLANG CLANG-


Twilight watched, eyes half lidded, as the building they had been heading towards erupted in neon pink magical fire. Fluttershy was already hiding behind the unicorn's haunches, and she 'eeped' loudly as a pony-sized wrench crashed into the ground just a few feet away.


Followed by a small flaming meteorite that blasted up through the roof of the workshop, spun around in crazy circles, and then slammed back to earth with a resounding thud. For a few seconds, all was silent -

And then a tiny pink filly jumped out of the hole in the ground, fluttering around in zany spirals as pink and purple fire trailed behind. The pink blur ran and flew around and around and around until, at last, it crashed into a wall and then bounced into a barrel of collected rainwater. A cloud of steam rose up from the reaction within... and moments later, a soot covered hand dragged a small humanoid shape out of the rain barrel. Said blackened shape then proceeded to stomp around the side of the workshop - isolated from the rest of Ponyville for now obvious reasons - and back inside.

A second later, something else exploded, too.

"EUREKA!!!" a high pitched voice cried out. "Another leap forward! FOR SCIENCE!"

"Um... on second thought, maybe we should try and find another class trainer," Fluttershy whimpered.

A part of Twilight, the sane part, couldn't help but agree. Yet... another part of her had wanted to laugh maniacally and cheer 'for science!' as well. Obviously the insanity was contagious and spreading. To her side, the giant crashed wrench teetered and fell with another loud boom. Yep. She was definitely a few screws loose to be coming here for help.

You would have to be positively loony to expect -

"HI!" Pinkie Pie appeared out of nowhere, prompting another hoof-palm.

'I really need to watch this internal monologue thing,' Twilight realized.

"Hey, Fluttershy, haven't seen you in a while!" The hyperactive pink force of nature that was Pinkie Pie bounded over to look the pegasus pony eye to eye. "Where you off having dangerous adventures on the far ends of the world? Because that sounds like fun! I hope you remembered to laugh at any monsters or zombies or giant spiders or giant spider zombies that you ran into, I don't think that does any actual dps, but it probably doesn't hurt either! Oh, do you have any recount tables I could use? Ponyville doesn't have any test dummies and I've been hoping to try some new things out!"

"I, um, I don't...I haven't done anything too interesting, so..."

"That's okay!" She leaned in conspiratorially. "I got the ear twitchy-twitch not too long ago. That means something exciting is going to happen soon." Pinkie bounced away, finally giving her two friends some space again. "So what's brought you guys out here to see Master Boombox?"

"I was hoping to get some class training," Twilight explained. "But, ah, 'Master Boombox' seems pretty busy, and I wouldn't want to interrupt."

"It was just a little explosion mixed with some transformation magic. Nothing serious!" Pinkie happily trotted over to the workshop, heedless of the ominous, incandescent arclight glowing from inside and illuminating the windows. "Come on in, I'll show you around!"

"We've come this far," Fluttershy reasoned.

Nodding, Twilight followed her party loving Earth pony friend into the gnomish workshop and laboratory. Arcane machinery pumped and gears and pistons whirred, occupying entire walls and rooms. Tools and tomes and flasks were strewn around in a chaotic mess that defied rational characterization, indeed, it spat in the eye of organization itself. Strange plans and blueprints hung here and there like tapestries.

Some more recent inventions had already been packaged in metal crates: high performance mechano-squirrel lubrication, weaponized salt shakers, smoke DE-detectors...

Not a lick of it made any damn sense.

A pair of oversized goggles popped up to fill Twilight's view.

"Hm-hm-hm! Unicorn pony." One of the goggle's lenses detached and 'zoomed' in on the surprised librarian. The pink haired gnome peered even closer. "Innnnnn-teresting!" The zoom lens then turned on Spike. "Very interesting!" Finally she noticed Fluttershy and immediately jumped back. "A druid! Pinkamena!"

"He-ee-re!" Pinkie sing-songed as she erupted out of a random pile of broken robots, a strange electronic contraption on her head, part hat and part slowly turning satellite dish.

"Hide the mutagen samples! The Circle's onto us!!"

"Right away!" Pinkie Pie saluted before bouncing away, this time with spring assisted footwear.

"Um, you really shouldn't be mutating animals..." Fluttershy perked up, approaching the insane gnome now busily rummaging through a haphazard collection of lab equipment.

"Animals?" the gnome asked, whirling on the pegasus and sounding genuinely insulted. "My little pony, mutating animals is goblin science. And so last decade." She then struck a pose and pointed upwards. "In this lab, we mutate robots!!"

"How can you mutate a robot?" Twilight asked, raising an eyebrow. "That doesn't even make sense."

The gnome just chuckled. It was probably meant to be sinister, but it just came out as childish.

"Oh ye of little SCIENCE!!!" she declared, crossing her arms even as something else exploded in the back of the lab.

Pinkie Pie crash landed nearby covered in black soot.

"So who are you two, anyway?" she then asked, stepping over the blasted pink pony to pursue some other random impulse/experiment.

"They're two friends of mine!" Pinkie replied before Twilight could say 'we were just leaving.' Shaking off the ash and soot like a hyperactive wet dog, she popped up between the two mares. "Twilight Sparkle is a unicorn and she works over at the library and she's one of Princess Celestia's personal students!"

"...favorite student actually..."

"And she got completely humiliated in a duel, so she wants to train up her class!"

"Does everyone have to know about that?!"

"And Fluttershy! She doesn't like to fly that much, unlike most pegasus ponies, but she's really great with animals and I think she's resto spec. So we've already got a healer!"

"...um, excuse me?"

"And this is Spike." Pinkie ended, her hoof flat on Spike's head.

"What? That's it?" the baby dragon pouted.

"Spike," Pinkie repeated, ruffling the scales on the top of his head. "He's the cute one. Like a mascot!"

"I want a better intro! And I’m no mascot!"

The sugary pink pony trotted over to where the gnome stood, tapping her foot expectantly. "Guys, this is Fizzle Boombox, Master Mage and Engineer! I'm supposed to call her Master Boombox, since I'm her temporary apprentice/unpaid intern but most visitors call her Fizzle or 'By the Light, that crazy gnome!'"

"That's enough time wasted on introductions, Pinkamena," Fizzle decided, lifting her goggles up to cover her forehead and hug the bangs of her similarly bright pink hair. The eyes beneath were a much more mundane brown. "Prepare the cupcake reintegration device. I will attend to your friends."

"Okey dokey, lokey!"

"So, you're here to have some retaining done?" Fizzle held out her hand and a voluminous tome appeared in a puff of smoke. "I see you haven't invested in any talent points. Why don't you pick a spec and I'll train you up. I'll even give you a discount, since you're a friend of my foolish apprentice."

Twilight blinked, and saw a picture of herself reflected in the first page of the arcane codex and instructional spell book. It quickly displayed her attendant level [31] and another numerical value called 'talent point pool.' There was also an outline of a fingered hand that morphed into a much more recognizable hoof-shape. Pressing her right forehoof to the outline, Twilight's head swam with possibilities and arcane knowledge wavering at the edge of consciousness.

"So I have to specialize... arcane, fire or frost?" she asked, sensing the book's desire to know her desires. The problem was that she didn't have them yet. She wanted to know anything and everything, pretty much. She hadn't much thought to discriminate.

"You should totally go frost!" Pinkie helpfully suggested while tinkering with some machine in the back of the room. "That way you and Rainbow Dash can start up an arena team!"

"Um, fire has the highest sustained dps," Fluttershy murmured. "I think. …I mean… that's what I've heard."

"I have no idea what either of you are talking about," the confused unicorn muttered.

"Arcane is good for leveling these days," Spike said in her ear. "Good party utility."

"What in Equestria does party utility mean?" Twilight finally exclaimed. "Or dps for that manner?!" She frowned at the spell book that still had her hoof attached to the page. There was some handy text appearing to help her make up her mind. "Manipulates arcane energies, playing with the very fabric of time and space,” she read it aloud. “Since setting fire to things or freezing them doesn't sound very pleasant, arcane it is!"

"Done," Fizzle agreed, eager to get back to her experiments. The gnomish mage trainer put her hand on the opposite page and a rush of knowledge erupted from the tome, up Twilight's foreleg and into her head. Her eyes glowed white hot as the basic spell casting information imprinted on her brain.

By the time she came back to her senses, Fluttershy was putting some sort of pouch back into her saddle bags. Twilight stared at her for a moment, blinking dumbly -

"Woah," she breathily realized. "I know polymorph."

"You'll need to practice to keep your skills sharp," the advice came from Fizzle, by now moved on from the mage training and focused back on critical matters of SCIENCE! She and Pinkie Pie had cleared the area around a peculiar device that spin and churned with magical energies.

"Teleportation manifold at one hundred Laforges!" Pinkie declared. "Let's do it!"

"Begin teleport!" her gnomish teacher ordered, laughing maniacally.

A massive blast of power accumulated within the device....

In the form of a cupcake.

"MORE POWER!!" Fizzle screamed, backlit by frightening dark energy. Generators squealed and steam blasted around the workshop. Tesla coils, there mostly for atmosphere (Twilight suspected) crackled and shot out bolts of lightning.

Pinkie pushed a conveniently placed lever forward. "I'm giving her all she's -"


The two engineers turned around, their faces covered in splattered cupcake goo.

"Mmm!" Pinkie wiped it off her face and into her mouth. "At least it still tastes good!"

"Subject remained edible after teleportation? We're making progress!" The pink haired gnome, master to the pink colored pony, quickly went around the back of the machine. "Perhaps a recalibration of the glucose transmogrification array? She just can't handle the sugar content as it is."

A giant hammer came out with which to perform the 'recalibrations.'

"This will take some time, Pinkamena." CLANG "You may as well take your little friends and enjoy the rest of your time off." CRACK "Tomorrow, we start large scale muffin integration trials!"



"Sure thing Master Boombox!" Pinkie saluted the now lit-on-fire gnome, even as she ran around in circles again. The party pony smiled at her friends and started to bounce out of the lab.

"Is she going to be alright?" Fluttershy asked, unsure whether to try a spell or something to help.

Pinkie shook her head. "Master gets set on fire a lot. I think she kind of likes it."

"Extinguisher 5000 to the rescue!" A spider like robot appeared and started hosing down the lab with foam. "DIE FIRE DIE! All fires shall be cleansed with fire!"

The three ponies took that as their cue to leave.

- - -

"Pinkie, I'm hesitant to ask, but why are you a student of that crazy... person back there?" Twilight had to catch herself from saying 'pony.' It was a wider world, after all. She was sure she'd get used to the new vocabulary associated with it soon enough.

"I'm learning gnomish engineering," the now slightly-less-hyper pink Earth pony explained. She was walking alongside her friends as they headed back to town.

"I still work at Sugarcube Corner," she quickly continued, pre-empting Twilight's next question. "The engineering apprenticeship is just part time. I'm not getting paid or anything. I just help out a bit and Master Boombox teaches me. The cupcake we were teleporting came from my room."

"That doesn't explain why anyone would want to teleport a cupcake of all things," the unicorn pony observed.

"That's easy to answer!" Pinkie gleefully replied. "Mister Cake wants to be able to sell his pastries to other cities in the Alliance, like Ironforge or Darnassus or Stormwind, but Equestria is really far away from all those places! Really, really far away! If we had a teleporter, though, then we wouldn't have to pay a mage to open portals for us, or for any other high speed transport! It'd be really good for business!"

Pinkie smiled, having finished her technical explanation. "I have a reason or two myself."

"Engineers can make a lot of cute pets," Fluttershy said, raising her voice just enough to clearly hear. "Mechanical squirrels and chickens."

"And a bombling!" Pinkie agreed, bouncing in front of the two mares. "But," she cautioned. "It isn't just that. Engineering is... amazing. I can't wait until I'm a grand master!"

Twilight rolled her eyes. "More dangerous than amazing, if you ask me."

"I guess when you can fly or use magic it doesn't seem very necessary," Pinkie Pie observed in one of her rare moments of dry mannered lucidity, but she quickly shrugged and went back to sounding perfectly cheerful. "But the great thing about it is that anyone can be an engineer if they just keep at it. I want... I'd like to be able to do things that I can't do as I am."

"What do you mean?" Fluttershy softly inquired. "You mean fly?"

"That's one of them!" Pinkie confirmed. Trotting around and starting to walk backwards, she took a moment to look upwards in memory. "Remember when that nasty old dragon set fire to Ponyville?" Of course they did, so she continued, "Not too long after Celestia and Luna resurrected everyone with that super cool megaspell, most of us had to sleep in tents and other shelters. Everypony was still trying to put out the fires."

"Ponies were so sad..." she said this with a pained expression, still distraught weeks later. "I wanted to throw a party or something to cheer them up, especially the little colts and fillies who couldn't go back to their homes yet. Something like an 'at least everyone's okay' party! Or a 'thanks for the rez, Princesses' party?"

Pinkie shook her head, trying to stay on topic. "Anyway, I didn't have any party stuff. I was going to try and make some up on the spot, but that was when one of the new Alliance people showed up. They'd come to help with the fire elementals."

The sugary pony's eyes got huge and watery as she remembered what came next. "You should've seen it, Twilight! He wasn't a pegasus, or even a pony, but he flew in on this machine - much better than the one I made to visit Dash! After talking to Celestia for a while, and agreeing to help with the fires, he saw all of us moping around. And I could see he loved to party too!"

"Next thing I knew, he'd thrown down this train set and a disco ball that got everyone dancing, and there was this pedestal thing with a dancing fire-girl in it, and firecrackers and these steam cars for the fillies and colts to play with and even a keg that refilled itself with some kind of frothy alcohol! And that wasn't it!" She took a deep breath, all but giddy again. "Food! He just took these feasts out of his bags! There were great feasts that made you big when you ate them, and ones that made you small, and chocolate cake with vanilla and strawberry filling! There was even food that made the saddest pony smile!"

Her misty eyes became suddenly serious. "It was... amazing."

Twilight and Fluttershy exchanged curious looks - neither had been present for the party in question. It seemed both strange and impressive, in Pinkie's words. The way she described it, he'd just thrown the entire party on a whim and completely out of the blue. Regardless of how much preparation beforehand had been actually involved, the sight had clearly affected their friend deeply.

"Imagine being able to make a party anywhere, any time?" Pinkie asked, still serious but fighting against the urge to squee in excitement at the possibility. "If I had what he had back at the Grand Galloping Gala, I'm sure I could've turned the whole thing around! Everyone would've had a super fun time! At least until the stampede hit, anyway."

"Um, yes, sorry about that..."

"Before he left, I talked to the guy," Pinkie drew her story to a close. "He said he'd gotten all the tricks he used from cooking and engineering and from seasonal events across the world." She bounced happily, her irrepressible 'eeeeee' finally escaping to give voice to her excitement. "That's what I want!"

"I want to perfect the art of partying!" she insisted. "To experience parties on every corner of the world! I want to celebrate Brewfest in Ironforge! I want to trick or treat in Outland! I want to have a spring fling for Noblegarden! I want to transform into a snowpony for Winter Veil! I want to meet the ghosts of ancient ponies at the Lunar Festival! I want to experience every form of party that exists and I want to share that with all my friends!"

Finally winding down, Pinkie Pie slowly caught her breath.

"I also want a motorcycle!" she cheered with a bounding 'wheee!!'

"Noblegarden does sound kind of fun," Fluttershy quietly agreed. "And, um, Children's Week, too, maybe."

"That's the spirit!" Pinkie enthused, but still managed to slow herself to a normal walk again next to the soft spoken pegasus. "But the down side is that these parties only happen once a year and we'll need to become stronger to complete all the achievements for them!" Her blue eyes narrowed in thought. "What we need is a tank.”

Blue eyes narrowed as an idea – a crazy one as usual – entered her head. “Oh I know! Maybe I should go and try and become a Death Knight? Do you think the Lich King would let me join, huh, do ya do ya?!"

"I wouldn't recommend that," Twilight suggested. On her back, Spike gave a sign of relief.

"One crazy undead pony is more than enough," he agreed.

"Awww! I'm not really the warrior or paladin type," Pinkie admitted, a little sadly. "And Rainbow Dash doesn't care about pve."

Twilight gave her friend a curious look. "What does that mean?"

- - -

Near the center of the new section of town a pony could find the assorted Battlemaster Tents set around an open field. There were designated lanes for jousts and duels here, but the primary purpose of the area was recruiting. Battle mages from the various factional hotpots were joined by more traditional recruiters looking to hire mercenaries or adventurers to reinforce battlegrounds worldwide from Alterac to Wintergrasp.

The mages would then teleport the groups of fighters en masse to support the war against the Horde, ensuring that the most powerful mercenaries were used at the right time against the enemy’s most powerful units. Functionally, this meant that battlegrounds were staggered affairs: each side would use troops of similar level to accomplish various objectives at various times. If level 80 mercenaries were being deployed by one side, they were immediately countered by other level 80s. If level 40s were being used, then level 40s would respond, saving their more powerful and experienced peers for when they were specifically required.

Given this, it was no surprise that there were many pvp-inclined ponies (and other Alliance members) hanging around awaiting their group’s respective call to battle. Rather less likely, but still present none-the-less, were a trio of pint sized Crusaders, currently engaged in a somewhat one sided battle for survival.

“OH! They’re simply adorable!!”

Apple Bloom groaned as the night elf woman cooed and picked her up right off her hooves. Despite being decked in ferocious looking plate armor and wielding a skull-shaped shield with burning eyes and a sword that seethed with pain enduing black magic she quickly reverted to dew-eyed adolescence at the sight of the three tiny fillies that had been trying to earn their cutie marks moments earlier. Cradling the little pony in her arm, she turned to her companion: a less amused human male wearing similar plate armor, and twin axes strapped to his back.

“I don’t think she likes being picked up, Juri,” he observed.

“Is’okay,” Apple Bloom grumbled. “Ah can’t say it’s the first time this’as happened.”

“Ah, well then, do you little…” the man searched for the word for a second. “Fillies need something?”

A cinnamon coated pegasus stood up on her hind legs, holding out a piece of paper in her mouth.

“Er e utie arrk Ruusaders,” she said through her teeth and around the flyer. Getting the hint, the human picked it from her and saw it was a quest listing.

“Oh ho,” he noted, and flipped it so his partner could read the note as well.

“We’re helping ponies around town get their quests done,” the yellow and red pony in the night elf’s arms explained. “Were also helpin’ anypony who wants to trade in tha old Marks of Honor fer Honor Points.”

“Since we can’t pvp yet,” Scootaloo, the pegasus filly, added in.

“Well, aren’t you three helpful?” the night elf woman asked, finally letting Apple Bloom back down. “Does Quartermaster Hadrian know you’re out here?”

“He said we could help,” the third little filly spoke up, a white coated unicorn with a two-tone pink and purple mane. “When we’re done, we’ll get Honor Points of our own for helping fight the Horde!”

“Don’t you still have all those old Wintergrasp tokens, Michael?” the night elf woman warrior asked.

“Hm. I guess I do have a few in here somewhere,” the man replied, patting a pouch on his belt.

“And I still have some old Stone Keeper shards. Why don’t we trade them in?”

“I heard they’re enforcing a new Honor Cap. I bet that’s why they want us to trade in out old stuff.”

“Aw, but look at these cute little girls! Don’t you want to help them out?”

“Okay, okay, by the Light.”

Together, the three little fillies cheered, finally getting their first score of the afternoon. Passing out notices about quests in town wasn’t very exciting, though it did give the Crusaders a chance to get in touch with some interesting gossip. They’d been much more excited about earning some Honor Points – maybe they’d get pvp cutie marks? Then in a few years they could fight the big nasties that threatened Equestria and wear super cool armor with names like ‘battlemaster’ and ‘bloodthirsty gladiator’ that stacked lots of resilience!

Following Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo to the Quartermaster tent, the pair signed up to have their old pvp marks and other emblems turned in for new Honor Points. Not surprisingly, a lot of people (not ponies) were hoarding their old marks to covert into Conquest Points later, figuring it was easier to hit the new Honor Point cap than it was to max out on Conquest Points. The Cutie Mark Crusaders didn’t really understand the nuances of it, except that the ponies handing out the only honor points they could get were trying to get everyone to switch from some old system to a new one.

Quartermaster Hadrian was probably one of Celestia’s Royal Guards in reassignment. He was a strongly built unicorn pony with a well groomed gray coat and close cropped mane – just the color scheme the Princess preferred among her unicorn guard. He wore functional body armor and other barding, but touches of gold and the Blazing Mark of Celestia on his helmet indicated higher station than would otherwise be expected. Seeing the night elf and human trading their old Wintergrasp marks in, he turned to smile down at the three little ponies he’d sent out on that errand.

“Not bad, fillies,” he said in a gruff voice. His armored horn glowed faintly and a trio of silver coins drifted down for the Crusaders to snatch out of the air.

“So these are Honor Points?” Scootaloo asked, a bit confused at the strange looking bits.

“Those are just to record how many honor points you have,” he informed them, and the coins glowed by themselves. “There you go. Hold them up and try and see for yourself.”

Sitting on their haunches, the trio tried squeezing the coins or holding them up to the light or waving them in the air. Sweetie Belle figured it out first, holding it in a hoof and closing her eyes. She squeaked happily, seeing a number appear in the darkness of her mind’s eye. Fifty Honor Points! She wasted no time telling her friends how to do the same, and soon they were running around celebrating – only to suddenly stop and check their flanks.

“Still no cutie mark?” Apple Bloom asked, dejected. “I thought for sure we had it this time.”

“Aww. I really wanted a cool fighter cutie mark, too!” Scootaloo said with an unhappy huff. “Like a sword or a shield or a troll with a sword stuck in him! Or something!”

Sweetie Belle didn’t seem quite as broken up about it, though. Still, curious, she looked up at Quartermaster Hadrian. His cutie mark was covered up by his armor, so they’d never gotten the chance to see it.

“Um, Mister Hadrian, sir,” she tentatively asked. “What does a warrior’s cutie mark look like?”

“Yeah!” her pegasus friend asked, eyes brightening.

Amused, Hadrian chuckled and rounded his station. With only a little effort, he lifted some of his armor’s protective chainmail barding, allowing them to see his mark. It was a plain looking arrowhead with two marks arcing away from the tip and a small star at each end. The three fillies took it in, wondering what it meant. Almost everyone with barding also ended up covering their cutie mark, natural born equestrian or not.

“My skill was in enhancing ranged attacks,” he explained. “Never did see much combat in Her Majesty’s service. The years were very quiet.” Seeing the trio about to ask for more details, he coughed and raised a hoof to shoo them along. “But that’s a story for another time. Now run along. If you want to help the Alliance, come back tomorrow and I’ll see if I can find something else for you to do.”

“Yes, sir!” the little fillies playfully saluted and ran off.

Hadrian frowned a bit as they left – the last couple years had been quiet, but these days were completely different. Fillies and colts shouldn’t have had to want to grow up to fight. It would be sad indeed if he lived and worked here long enough to see those three little crusaders grow up and actually have to go out and fight to protect the borders of Equestria from her new enemies. From what he’d seen and heard, many within the Horde had little mercy, even for young and innocent...

And how sad would it be if people were still fighting over Arathi Basin ten damn years from now?

Outside, the Crusaders had just caught sight of few familiar faces.

“Hey, look,” Sweetie Belle nudged Scootaloo, motioning towards the open front of the Battlemaster training grounds. Apple Bloom walked up a little close and peered off, catching sight of them too: it was Twilight Sparkle, Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie. The soft spoken pegasus was the biggest surprise to take in, since she was supposed to still be out of town helping the druids with animal evacuation and resettlement.

“Ah wonder what they’re doin’ out here?” Apple Bloom asked, inclining her head in confusion. None of the older ponies were really the pvp type. Twilight was an occasionally energetic bookworm, Pinkie was hyper and often incomprehensible but not really a fighter, and Fluttershy. Well. Fluttershy. What more was there to say?

Turning to her friend, the Apple Orchard filly asked, “Ya think they’d be willin ta help out yer sister, Sweetie Belle?”

“I guess we could ask. They are her friends, but…” Sweetie Belle’s conviction wavered a little. “But Rarity said to get some fighter type ponies for the job. She said it was pretty dangerous.”

“I bet they’re here looking for Rainbow Dash!” Scootaloo guessed with sudden surety, looking to Apple Bloom for some anticipated agreement. They knew Dash was a fighter, and that she loved adventure, and had planned on asking her if she showed up.

“Oh, and maybe they’d help us with that other thing, too!” Sweetie Belle chirped.

Apple Bloom, seeing her friends had their mind made up, made up hers as well. “Ah guess it can’t hurt ta ask…”

It wasn’t so much that she didn’t want to go up to the three mares; it was that, in her view, if Rarity wanted her friends to help her out, then she would have just asked them herself. Trotting over, she saw Pinkie Pie was the first to spot them, pointing over in the young fillies direction. Before any of them could meet up, though, there was a flash of light to Apple Bloom’s left, and a crack like muted lightning. The groups paused, and almost immediately a large assembly of ponies and a few non-ponies came between them, exiting from the nearby teleportation portal. Most of them looked dirty and bloodied, some badly enough that they were being helped towards nearby medical tents.

Scootaloo immediately directed her attention to the incoming group, looking for one face in particular. They hadn’t seen Rainbow Dash all day, and it was one of the reasons they were out here, cutie mark crusading aside. Apple Bloom couldn’t help but feel a bit nervous seeing so many ponies returning from an actual battle, the kind she’d only read about from Equestria’s distant past. When her cousin Braeburn had written around the ‘battle’ he and the other settlers out west had with the buffalo, he had mentioned them using pies to stun the warriors attacking the town. Actual lethal combat had been little known since the wild steppe pony tribes of the east retreated, hundreds of years ago.

Apple Bloom wasn’t sure she would’ve wanted a “pvp cutie mark” even if she’d gotten one, and she suspected Sweetie Belle felt the same way. Scootaloo wanted so badly to follow her idol, though –

“Dash!” Scootaloo cheered, finally catching sight of that distinct rainbow colored mane and tail.

And off she went, Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle trying to play catchup.

There was no doubt about it: that was Rainbow Dash emerging from the throng of returning fighters. Apple Bloom breathed a sigh of relief in seeing that she was walking properly and that she looked basically fine. The multicolored pegasus was wearing more combat barding, though it was lighter than that of many others and primarily made of linked mail and not solid plate. A silvery white cloak covered part of her back, tossed slightly out of the way as her powder blue wings flexed.

She was talking animatedly with another pegasus, a stallion with a mane of pitch black hair and a snow white coat, whiter even than Sweetie Belle or Rarity’s. His eyes glowed with an inner golden light as he paused, gently nudging Dash and inclining his head their way. He’d obviously seen them and heard Scootaloo before Dash herself did. A moment later and she saw them, too, and her eyes lit up.

“Scoots!” she greeted, happily, flying over and catching the Cutie Mark Crusader that jumped at her, tiny wings buzzing.

“Hey there, you guys,” she then addressed to the other two fillies. The herd around them was rapidly thinning out with many ponies and non-ponies mounting up or otherwise taking to the air or heading out of town. Dash patted Scootaloo on the side with her wing a few times and then tucked it tightly in and up against her barding.

It was about then that she noticed a bright pink form approaching, along with some other familiar ponies.

“And you guys, too?” she asked, clearly a bit surprised.

“We got fifty Honor Points today!” Scootaloo announced, eager to impress her idol before she became too distracted. “How many did you get, huh, Dash? A lot I bet! Were you in Strand of the Ancients? Or Tol Barad?”

The chromatic pegasus smiled, scooting Scootaloo forward to make some room.

“Fifty Honor? That’s pretty good!” she said, nodding amiably. “I think I got…” she coughed, for once being a bit humble. “Maybe a hundred or so today.”

“So this is the Scootaloo I’ve heard about?” the male pegasus asked, lowering his head a bit to get closer to filly eye-level. “Keep up the good fight, kid.”

The little cinnamon colored filly gave him a much more wary look, weighing whether he was more competition for Dash’s attention. “You one of Dash’s friends or something?”

“Kinda,” he answered with a smile. “Mostly I just keep her alive when she caps a flag. Or when she suicidally dive bombs someone.”

“You mean you spend the whole battleground watching my back.”

The two pvpers laughed and Dash pointedly waited for the rest of her friends to hurry over. Another pony, this one a unicorn, nodded to the two pegasi as she walked past, horn glowing to open a brief magical portal of her own. They all seemed pretty familiar with one another.

“You were gone all day,” Scootaloo complained, but kept her voice a bit more quiet. In fact, Dash had been gone for two days. The Crusaders were lucky they’d caught her coming back, even with them camping the battlemaster grounds for a good chunk of the afternoon.

“Sorry, kid,” the older mare replied with a cocky grin. “We got bumped around a lot today. Rough weather all around.”

Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle exchanged looks. It was pretty obvious, even to a filly, that there was some other meaning behind Dash’s shorthand. She had been on weather duty after the Cataclysm with the rest of her Ponyville unit but she’d also been quick to join up for adventure further away. There was a lot of weather related destruction around the world, apparently, and ‘combat engineer’ pegasus units had been dispatched to help out their new allies in far away lands. Dash had come back to Ponyville a week later with a taste for the thrill of fighting.

“Heya, Dash!” Pinkie was the first to cheer as their small group got within speaking distance. “How was the bg?”

“AV went back and forth for hours!” Dash greeted her Earth pony friend with a playful hoof to the shoulder. She then smiled at her other friends, particularly zeroing in on Twilight. “And look who finally got her nose out of the books!”

“I happen to like the smell of books, that’s all,” Twilight said in her defense.

“Spike. Fluttershy.” Dash trotted back a step and gestured with a wing to the black and white pegasus standing nearby. “This is Blacklight. We’ve paired up for a few battlegrounds.”

“h-hello.” “Hi there!” “Nice to meet you.” “Hey man.”

Blacklight inclined his head. “Pleased to meet friends of Rainbow. I’ve heard a good deal about all of you.”

“And this is Scootaloo – well, you know that already – and Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom,” Dash quickly added, walking around near the Crusader trio. He nodded to the fillies as a group.

“It seems you have a lot of catching up to do, Rainbow,” Blacklight said, introductions done. He spread his wings and noiselessly rose up off his hooves. “Another time?”

She smiled up at him, flicking back her mane. “I’ll send you an invite later.”

With one last bit of respectful pleasantry, he swept up and accelerated into a streak of black against the sky.

“So!” Dash focused back on her friends around her. “Is something going on? Kinda’ a funny coincidence everyone running into me right out of a battleground like this.”

“It, um, has to do with… that thing I sent you before?” Fluttershy answered, nonetheless sounding pretty hesitant.

“Oh, that pve stuff?” Dash asked, scratching the back of her head.

“Well, it isn’t really pve…”

“Oh yeah!” Apple Bloom suddenly spoke up, remembering what the Crusaders had been talking about before. The adult ponies all turned their heads to stare at her, and she shrunk back a bit at the attention. Still, more assertive than most fillies her age, she continued anyway, “We wanted ta ask you guys if ya wanted to do some quests!”

“Why are you three asking people about quests?” Spike asked, leaning forward on Twilight Sparkle’s head and using her ears to keep from falling off her back. “You better not be running a dailies racket too!”

“Spike!” Twilight warned, purple eyes looking up but not quite able to catch him.

“We’re not tricking people out of gems, if’n that’s what ya mean,” Apple Bloom scolded.

“It isn’t tricking anyone! It’s a legitimate quest!”

“You just called it a racket, Spike. That doesn’t make it sound very legitimate.”

“We’re just trying to help people around town,” Sweetie Belle explained, raising a hoof. “We wanted to ask you about helping my sister, too. She’s been working really hard.”

“Rarity needs help?” Twilight asked, forgetting Spike’s gem acquisition schemes for a moment.

Sweetie Belle nodded eagerly. “She asked us to send some ‘adventure loving types’ over to see her.”

“What quest level?” Dash asked, and blinked at the surprised looks shot her way. “What? I’m just curious.”

“Um. I think it was thirty?” Scootaloo replied, tapping her chin. “Yeah. Thirty. Thirty-something.”

“You’ll never get leveled types to accept a quest at thirty without rep involved,” Spike helpfully supplied. “Or, um, so I’ve heard.”

“What about you guys?” Dash asked, glancing over at Pinkie, Twilight and Fluttershy. “You have some pve you needed to do or what?”

“I’d just, you know…” Fluttershy murmured. “Like to visit the Darkmoon Faire. And get a wood frog. And maybe a pug puppy someday.”

Pinkie just giggled excitedly. “I want to get to level sixty before the Lunar Festival!”

“Celestia kind of suggested I try and learn more about friendship and other cultures,” Twilight explained, a little bashfully. “And, maybe look into some guild related things.”

“You guys should totally form a party!” Scootaloo declared.

“I’ve been saying that, too!” Pinkie agreed, but her face quickly fell. “But no one seemed surprised when I said it.”

“I wonder why?” Twilight asked.

“Let’s go see Rarity!” Sweetie Belle insisted. “If she needs what I think she needs, then maybe we’ll have something you can help us with, too!”

- - -

Rarity craned her neck painfully back and forth as she took a break from pulling together another bolt of mageweave. The fabric was simply a pain to work with, in every imaginable. It was amazingly durable and the texture was just divine, and it soaked up enchantment magic like a sponge, but at the same time that made it difficult to work using telekinesis or any other form of magic. It resisted being cut or bundled, and it was a trail and a half to stitch. A small pile of warped needles were currently arranged in an artful sculpture that stood as a testament to the troublesome nature of the cloth she had to work with.

And from everything she’d seen and read, working with Frostweave and Embersilk was even worse!

These new fabrics and patterns were back breaking, but they were all that was in demand now among high class customers. Rarity sighed. Unless she wanted to fall back on producing generic products – an option she shuddered to consider – she needed to stay ahead of the curve. These days that meant working with foreign fabrics and Equestrian materials no one had even considered using before. Then there was all the work she needed to do to improve her jewelcrafting!

Competition overseas was already fierce, and Equestrian tailors from Stalliongrad to Canterlot were rushing to play catch up. It wasn’t enough for a dress to be stylish. It had to incorporate magic into the very materials: either for beautification or for combat purposes. There were ponies who wanted foreign styles and foreigners who wanted pony styles, but of course, enhanced under that outer layer. ‘I’d like it too look like that, but I’d also like to be able to take it into Deadmines.’

Letting out another tired breath, she finished with the last few bolts of mageweave. Once it was ‘bound and wound’ it would be treated enough to actually use, but the cloth itself was only the most basic ingredient in making a piece of functional and fashionable clothing…

A melodious chime immediately diverted her attention: the door!

“Just a mo-ment!” Rarity called, finishing up and trotting over to see who had graced her shop.

Seeing the group entering, her ears flattened in professional disappointment before rising again in personal delight. She doubted Twilight or Fluttershy, much less Rainbow Dash, had followed the Cutie Mark Crusaders to her shop to place a dress order or even to have a new belt put together. On the other hoof, it was always wonderful to see her friends again, and she’d missed Fluttershy at the last few visits to the Ponyville Spa.

“Hi there Rarity!” Pinkie cheerfully bounced over.

“I hope we’re not intruding at a bad time…?” Fluttershy asked, voice quiet.

“Not at all! Any time is a good time for you to drop by, darling!” She motioned Twilight and Spike in, too. “Come in! Come in!” She just as quickly headed towards Sweetie Belle and her friends. “You three got back just in time. I just finished with your order a little while ago.”

“Our tabards are ready?” Scootaloo fluttered briefly across the air as she cheered. “Let’s see em! Let’s see em!”

“Thanks again fer making them fer us,” Apple Bloom said, excited enough to run forward but not to forget her manners.

“I know they came out just perfect!” Sweetie Belle seconded, with absolute faith in her sister’s abilities.

“You guys have tabards?” Spike asked, raising a scaly eyebrow at the Crusaders.

“We sure do!” Scootaloo assured him. “Now that we’ve got a tabard, the Cutie Mark Crusaders is a genuine Guild!”

“What?” Spike asked. “No way. Guilds require a minimum of five members.”

“Just fer your information, Mister Doubting Dragon, we got us all tha signatures we needed, and we paid fer guild reg-reg… reg-is-tration, too,” Apple Bloom clearly struggled a bit with the word. But she managed it anyway and pointed dramatically at the little fire breather.

“We even saved up money to commission an official tabard,” Sweetie Belle informed him as she followed close behind her older sister.

“Here you fillies are,” Rarity declared, horn glowing as she levitated a trio of white and red tabards in the pony style, meaning worn side to side and not front to back. The Crusaders held still for just long enough to be fitted and have the new tabards draped over their sides. A neat folded clasp on the front secured it in place around each filly’s neck. A symbol etched into each side of the tabard was prominently displayed: a stylized flank and tail with curving lines moving out from and towards where a cutie mark would be.

Sweetie Belle got achievement [Represent]
Apple Bloom got achievement [Represent]
Scootaloo got achievement [Represent]

The three little ponies whooped and immediately started running around. The vestments took a moment to activate, and then glowing letters appeared in the air above them.

[2] Sweetie Belle

<Cutie Mark Crusaders>

[2] Apple Bloom

<Cutie Mark Crusaders>

[2] Scootaloo

<Cutie Mark Crusaders>

“Yay! We’re a Guild!” The hyper fillies congratulated themselves and zipped around, trying to grab the magical letters that floated over their heads, as if they could be shaken off by rolling around or buzzing through the air.

Spike took that opportunity to whisper in Twilight’s ear, “I don’t know how they got five signatures for their charter, but this guild thing can’t be that hard if those three did it.”

“Well, congratulations my little ponies!” Twilight offered, after giving Spike a small nod. She hadn’t forgotten Princess Celestia’s other not so subtle suggestions.

“So which one of you is the GM?” Rainbow Dash asked, walking around to where Rarity was looking on with a pleased smile for her younger sister.

“I am!” all three said at once. Then Apple Bloom spoke up, “My name is the one on the charter, but Sweetie Belle is our treasurer, and Scootaloo is our raid leader!”

The crusading fillies wore big smiles as they basked in their mutual achievement.

“That reminds me!” Apple Bloom said, looking up at the older ponies. “You should ask Rarity about her quest!”

Four pairs of pony eyes (plus one dragon pair) zeroed in on the fashionista.

“Oh, I couldn’t,” the pretty unicorn protested. “Really, mixing work and pleasure, there’s no need!”

“Come on, Rarity, you can tell us!” Pinkie Pie insisted, somehow appearing at the unicorn’s side. “Do you need us to bump someone off in Blackwind Descent?” she leaned in, turning conspiratorial. “Is it Nefarian? Maloriak? Did he steal your muffins, too?”

“What? Goodness no!” Rarity gasped. “Where do you even get these ideas?”

Pinkie bounced away. “Beats me!”

“Come on, we’re all curious, now,” Dash also insisted, much more rationally.

“That’s right,” Twilight spoke up. “We’d be happy to help out any way we can.”

Resisting the urge to give an un-ladylike sigh, Rarity bowed her head, defeated. “Alright. It wouldn’t hurt to explain.”

She trotted slowly over to one of her new mannequins, a tall non-pony with hooves in the shape of a female draenei – one of the new Alliance races. In this case, one even more foreign than the rest. Draenei were cloven hoofed humanoids not native to Azeroth, much less Equestria. A large ship full of them, called the Exodar, had crashed in northern Kalimdor several years ago. They had quickly become an exotic but important part of the Alliance.

This one was being fitted for a slim white dress.

“Business has been… somewhat complicated lately,” Rarity admitted, horn glowing as she anxiously fixed up part of the dress, making tiny adjustments with colored pins. “Most of my orders have been for clothing that is both fashionable and functional. Dungeon-ware I’ve heard it called.”

“Clothies,” Rainbow muttered under her breath. “So squishy.”

“Be that as it may,” Rarity continued, having clearly overheard the pegasus. “The sort of tailoring required is very new to Equestria. Aside from some of the guild member tailors coming and going through town, I may be the first pony to ever work with mageweave or runecloth.”

“But procuring the materials is extremely difficult,” she explained, head lowering sadly. “I’m barely breaking even on what I can sell, and becoming proficient requires experimentation. Trial and error. If I buy all of it from the auction house, I’ll go bankrupt. But if I don’t improve, I’ll be left behind…”

“So you need cloth to level your tailoring?” Pinkie summarized. “That’s not a problem! You get lots of Mageweave and Runecloth getting to level 60! And tons of Frostweave and Embersilk getting to 85!”

“You make it sound so easy,” Rarity countered with a frown. “Never mind all the icky fighting and tromping around and monster slaying and being splashed with unsavory poisons and diseases!”

“Um, so this quest you had was a daily to bring you some cloth?” Fluttershy delicately inquired.

“Actually…” Rarity hesitated here, but went ahead after a moment said, “While I do need more cloth in the long run, right now I really need some… ah, shall we say: exotic materials to finish my orders. Specifically a certain type of silk only found here in Equestria.”

“Silk?” Twilight asked.

“Magical spider silk to be exact,” Rarity told her with a grimace. “From Nightmareweb Spiders.” Seeing her friends recoil a bit, she hastily added, “I don’t much like it, but I just can’t find any acceptable substitute. This silk is the only one that will do!”

“But Rarity,” Fluttershy protested, raising her voice a bit. “N-Nightmareweb Spiders are very dangerous. And poisonous. And they only live in Evertree Forest around… that castle…”

“Princess Luna’s old castle, right?” Apple Bloom asked, the surprise on the older mares faces plain to see.

“How do you know about that?” Twilight carefully asked. On her back, Spike was listening closely as well.

“Lotsa ponies talk about it. Non-ponies, too.” Scootaloo was the first to explain, while Sweetie Belle shied away slightly, a bit more embarrassed than her friends at what they’d been sticking their noses into.

“They all know where the castle is,” the little pegasus continued, clearing believing that if something became common enough knowledge there was no shame in knowing about it, or talking about it for that matter. “And we’ve heard the Royal Guard are hiring anypony they can to go out there and fight the Twilight Ponies.”

“Twilight Ponies?” Rainbow Dash asked, cocking her head to the side. “You mean Twilight Hammer Cultponies?”

Pinkie Pie made an unhappy, queasy face. “Oooh! I don’t like those guys! …They’re cupcake haters.”

“If ya’ll are gonna go out there to help Rarity, maybe you could do some thing for us, too?” Apple Bloom asked, looking up at the adult ponies with wide, hopeful eyes. “We heard that there’s a record of how Princess Luna got her cutie mark somewhere in tha castle ruins!”

“A dwarf man was looking for it,” Sweetie Belle elaborated, speaking softly. “He said something about there being a disk, too. He said it would have a ‘record of the first cutie marks.’”

“If we can find out how the Princesses got their cutie marks, then maybe it’ll help us find out how to get ours!” Scootaloo enthused. She sidled up by her idol and looked up at Rainbow Dash. “Please say you’ll help us! We don’t have a lot of gold, but I bet the dwarf who wanted the disk will have some kind of cool reward for you!”

“Yeah!” Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom agreed in stereo. “So will you do it?”

The adults all stared at each other, collectively a bit dumbstruck by how well informed the three little fillies apparently were, but still weighing their options. A trek to Everfree Forest to the ruined castle of Nightmare Moon? Gathering Nightmareweb silk from pony-eating spiders? Fighting Twilight Cultponies? Finding a record of the First Cutie Marks?

Pinkie Pie was the first to speak. “So,” she asked, her voice perfectly level. “Party?”

Fluttershy delicately cleared her throat; little more than a squeak. “Um. I can heal. If that’s okay with everyone. Just please don’t roll if a pet drops.”

“I guess I am curious about trying out these new spells,” Twilight noted.

“I believe those cultponies probably have a lot of mageweave for bandages,” Rarity speculated. “Relieving them of some of their excess would only be good for Equestria as a whole.”

“I really hate being prot,” Dash admitted with a sick look, going so far as to stick her tongue out. “Can’t we just pick up Applejack so I can divine storm?”

“One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Yes. Yes. I do believe…” Pinkie Pie’s whole body vibrated with excitement, unable to contain it a moment more. “WE HAVE A PARTY!”

Next Chapter: Chapter Three Estimated time remaining: 8 Hours, 47 Minutes
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